(spoilers for episode four)
Despite it being early days yet, House of the Dragon has not lacked for scheming and salaciousness. Though the latter has been cause for many dropped jaws and hushed whispers this week (the memes alone are legion), the exposure of the former is what will turn the growing cracks in the Targaryen rule into enormous rifts large enough for anyone, even the most powerful among them, to fall through.
Disaster comes first in the form of Daemon’s return. After his impressive vanquishing of The Crabfeeder last week, a newly-shorn Daemon has returned to Kings Landing after a four-year-long absence. After being effectively banished and engaged in a protracted act of war, it’s easy to assume that his arrival must be a hostile act. But to Viserys’ happy surprise, Daemon bends the knee to him and declares his loyalty. That’s all it takes for his brother to welcome him back to the fold.
As pleased as Viserys is to have his brother by his side once again, he’s just as agitated at Rhaenyra, who has abruptly ended her kingdom-wide tour of potential suitors several months ahead of schedule. He dismisses her in front of his wife and brother, leaving her no choice but to yet again wander away from an otherwise lively party.
It is Alicent who reaches out to a dejected Rhaenyra, who, surprisingly, accepts her companionship. Holding grudges can be burdensome, and Rhaenyra’s increasing isolation is enough motivation to patch up the now-years old wound between the two, especially since it’s a position Alicent can relate to; she’s had a head start fulfilling the duties that Rhaenyra desperately wishes she could avoid, though Alicent never had the (comparative) luxury of choosing her spouse.
As a character, I suspect Alicent is overlooked by many as far as her impact goes, save for the plot complication the birth of Aegon brings. But considering her young age, she has a gift for diplomacy as well as the ability to provide sensible counsel, especially to Viserys, who’s shown a healthy ability to set aside his pride when the situation calls for it (in truth it’s his best quality). Whether by training or her innate kindness—likely a mixture of both—Alicent shows a great deal more consideration for others than what is provided to her. She may very well be the most sympathetic character in the series.
Meanwhile, Rhaenyra is set to embark on a very memorable evening, courtesy of the disguise and secret map provided to her by Daemon. “There is surely more to your return than simply taunting my father,” Rhaenyra asked earlier that day. “Only the comforts of home,” he responds, which takes on a whole new, and yes, far more sinister meaning once we see what the events of the night bring.
Director Clare Kilner navigates this objectively complicated storyline with quite a bit of skill. Multiple life experiences can coexist simultaneously: there’s Rhaenyra, the eighteen-year-old who’s supplied with alcohol by the considerably older relative she holds in high regard, one who’s gone to great lengths to prey upon her biggest insecurity (via that mocking theater production demonstrating the people’s preference for Aegon as heir) before taking advantage of her inside of a brothel. Then there’s the Rhaenyra who also experiences a very legitimate, in human development if not in originating circumstance, sexual awakening. Her mistaken belief that she had any control of the situation in that brothel is better realized later that night, when she returns to her bedchamber guarded by the oh-so-pretty Ser Criston Cole. If he had any true sense of self-preservation, he would have left that room the moment she made her intentions known. But to the show’s credit, the relationship between the pair has been well-established, beginning first with his gratitude over being made Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, which has clearly evolved into a growing attraction.
Their lovemaking is sensual and passionate, everything someone deserves during a healthy sexual experience (as well as gracefully shot). It also stands in stark contrast to the episode’s other sex scene, in which Viserys, warmed by Alicent’s tenderness towards his ever-worsening physical condition, calls her to his room. She abides because yet again, she’s obligated by her duties, but there’s no pleasure to be had from their coupling. It’s perfunctory, something to be tolerated until he finishes. Little wonder that Alicent finds the notion of lines of men vying for Rhaenyra’s hand to be “romantic.”
There’s no surprise whatsoever in the fact that Viserys almost immediately finds out about Daemon and Rhaenyra’s illicit night—Daemon made sure of it, thanks to the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment when he snatches Rhaenyra’s cap off her head to expose that signature Targaryen white hair before they stepped into that pleasure house. What is surprising is Viserys willingness to defend Rhaenyra to Otto while recognizing that Otto’s main priority is to see his grandson on the throne. Viserys also does the right thing by saving the worst of his anger for Daemon, who chooses that moment to reveal his ultimate intentions:
“Give me Rhaenyra to take to wife, and we will return the House of the Dragon to its proper glory.”
It’s deplorable, but as far as plans go, it’s a good one. Family ties aside, the vast majority of royal fathers would choose that option without hesitation. But Viserys, distasteful of the incestuous customs of House Targaryen and, just as importantly, genuinely concerned for his daughter’s happiness and well-being, turns Daemon down flat and banishes him yet again.
When Viserys finally confronts Rhaenyra, his anger is far more measured, thanks to Alicent’s cooling demeanor. In the godswood, Rhaenyra does a damn good job semi-lying to her stepmother (technically she and Daemon didn’t have sex thanks to his erectile dysfunction), and Alicent, in turn, insists to Viserys that Rhaenyra is still a virgin. Between this debacle and the larger political nightmare breathing down his neck, Viserys is less concerned with her maiden status than getting her wed to the best possible option, which is Laenor Velaryon. Viserys begins at once to work on the lengthy task of ensuring nothing goes awry, starting first with a carefully brewed cup of an abortifacient tea delivered to Rhaenyra’s bedchamber.
By episode’s end, numerous ties are now either broken or severed entirely. Otto has been fired (finally), but not before Viserys comes to the delayed realization that Alicent’s kindly visits in the aftermath of Aemma’s death were a carefully calculated maneuver. Surely this will impact the perception of his marriage, though how and to what extent is unclear. Once again, Rhaenyra’s relationship with her father is on shaky ground; will she feel any ire towards Daemon and if she does, will it be because he abruptly left her at that brothel, or because he left her to return to The Vale by order of the King? Her feelings towards Daemon may change depending on how Criston reacts to her from here on out. Fear and shame may be enough for him to try to keep her at arm’s length. Unfortunately for him, the same may not be said of her.
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t wondering if Mysaria is going to play a Lord Varys-sized role in this series, she can be found on Twitter here.
Header Image Source: Ollie Upton / HBO